Are you planning a trip to Turkey?
There are so many fascinating places to see in Turkey, and you may be feeling a little lost figuring out where to start.
Don’t fret. Our customizable 2-week Turkey itinerary can help you plan the perfect trip.
While we spent more than three weeks in Turkey (and have visited Istanbul and Ephesus several times on cruises), this travel guide works very well for 2 weeks in Turkey – as we’ve plucked the best of Turkey (pun intended!) for this itinerary!
And here’s the thing. You don’t need to go on a package tour.
We planned our own dream Turkey trip, booking our choice of hotels (a mix of boutique and deluxe), internal flights and driver transportation. You can do it too – for the best Turkey vacation ever!
2 Weeks in Turkey: Highlights
We’re the kind of travelers who’d rather get to know three places well than breeze through ten places. We also prefer less “travel” time (unpacking and packing) and more “experiential” time.
So on our tour of Turkey, we based ourselves in three destinations: Istanbul, Cappadocia and Bodrum. From Bodrum, we did day trips to Ephesus and Sirince.
Why visit Turkey?
What are the best places in the world you’ve visited?”
As professional travel writers – fortunate to have traveled everywhere from Sri Lanka to Greece – we’re often asked this question.
Without hesitation, our answer always includes Turkey.
The whole country makes for an epic trip – and there are many amazing reasons to visit Turkey.
It’s a fascinating mix of East-meets-West, with an exotic history, mind-blowing scenery, amazing ancient ruins and some of the tastiest food you’ll ever bite into.
From its seductive hammams in Istanbul to its beaches, palaces, mosques hot air balloon rides and bazaars, Turkey dazzles with its array of beguiling sights and experiences!
We’ve mentioned that the 2-week Turkey itinerary set out below is customizable. You can easily pick the parts you want to experience for your trip – whether that’s 10 days in Turkey or (lucky you!) 3 weeks in Turkey.
A word of advice: If you only have 7 days to spare, don’t try to take in all of the country. It would take months to see all the main attractions and historical sites.
Focus instead on Istanbul and Cappadocia.
And if you can spend more than 2 weeks in Turkey, you can savor the luxury of slower travel (and perhaps add on another destination)!
Best time to visit Turkey
The summer months of June, July and August are the peak tourist times to visit Turkey.
But they’re also the hottest months. Daytime temperatures regularly hit 90 F (32 C) in Cappadocia in August.
If you don’t like the heat but still want warm sunny weather, the best time to travel to Turkey is May or September.
We visited in September and found the weather perfect for both touring and beaching.
Late April and early October are also pleasant and mild.
You can actually visit Turkey year-round.
But if visiting between mid-December to mid-March, you should expect rain and/or snow – just one of the things to know if visiting Turkey in winter.
Mind you, we hear winter in Cappadocia can be magical – a veritable snowy wonderland! (And Capaddocia’s famous hot air balloons still fly in the winter.)
Other Turkey travel tips
Booking hotels in Turkey:
Be sure to book your hotels in Turkey in advance. Do not leave it to the last minute and book hotels on the go when in the country.
In 2017, the Turkish government banned the use of Booking.com to book hotels when you are already in Turkey. That ban is still in place, despite the objection of many hotels.
The country plans to ban other online booking sites too in Turkey, such as Airbnb, Expedia and Skyscanner.
Also know that in high season, the best hotels book out fast, so you need to secure your accommodations early if you’re fussy about particular hotels (which we are).
Visas and Turkey entry requirements:
Most visitors to Turky need a visa. For example, U.S. and Canadian citizens need a tourist visa.
As of 2020, British and Irish citizens don’t need a visa, however.
Passport holders from a few other European countries (for example, Norway, Portugal and Spain) can also enter Turkey without a visa.
Check the current requirements for your particular country. For some countries, there may also be additional entry requirements.
If you’re eligible for a visa to enter Turkey, you’re usually able to apply online for an e-visa. And we’d recommend that you do this in advance.
Most ports of entry in Turkey allow you to fill out a visa application upon arrival. But it’s simpler to obtain an online visa beforehand – and it gives you peace of mind that you can indeed visit.
As for vaccinations, there are no special vaccine requirements to enter the country.
Currency in Turkey:
The official currency in Turkey is the Turkish lira. But U.S. dollars, Euros and British pounds are also generally accepted.
Having said that, it’s always better to use the local currency if you can, as you won’t have to figure out the conversion – and you’ll generally get a better deal.
You don’t want to exchange currency at the airport. You’ll get the stiffest exchange rate there. Wait until you’re in the city and can hit an ATM or bank to withdraw cash.
Credit cards are widely accepted; Visa and Mastercard are the most common. But you’ll still want some cash (preferably lira) when traveling in Turkey for tips, taxi drivers and shopping in the markets.
How to get around Turkey
Turkey is a large country. It’s almost the size of Texas and Louisiana combined.
We flew on Turkish Airlines to get around within the country.
We took direct flights from Istanbul to Cappadocia and then to Bodrum, and from Bodrum we flew back to the Istanbul airport.
For airport-to-hotel transfers and getting around Istanbul, Cappadocia and Bodrum/Ephesus, we used Vanguard Travel Services.
One of Turkey’s top tour and travel agencies, Vanguard specializes in customized tours for individual travelers, small groups and special interest groups – and service is white glove. Going on a group tour is a good idea if you’re traveling solo and are concerned about safety in Turkey.
We found our local Vanguard guides in Ephesus, Cappadocia and Istanbul to be extremely knowledgeable, our airport and hotel transfers were prompt, and we were transported in deluxe non-smoking air-conditioned vans, equipped with complimentary cold bottled water and towelettes.
Map: 14-day Turkey itinerary
See this Google map we created showing the perfect Turkey itinerary route.
Distances in Turkey
Distances between the destinations in this Turkey itinerary are:
Istanbul (A) – Distance to Cappadocia 456 miles (735 km)
Cappadocia (B) – Distance to Bodrum 419 miles (675 km)
Bodrum (C) – Distance to Ephesus 105 miles (170 km)
Ephesus (D) – If you stay in Selcuk, distance to Istanbul 320 miles (515 km)
Istanbul (E) – Distance from Bodrum (C) to Istanbul 430 miles (695 km)
Day 1 to 5 – Istanbul itinerary
Feast like a sultan, gape at glittering palaces and soak in a steamy hammam. Welcome to Istanbul!
Located in western Turkey, it’s the country’s largest city.
And talk about unique!
Bisected by the Bosphorus Canal, Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents: Europe and Asia. There’s the European side of Istanbul and the Asian side – with the Bosphorus separating the two.
For most visitors, Istanbul is the starting point for a visit to Turkey.
International flights typically arrive at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. It makes sense to shake off jet lag here (especially if flying from North America) and to explore first this fabulous city.
Visit Topkapi Palace
If this is your first time to Istanbul, no doubt the Topkapi Palace is tops on your list of must-see Istanbul attractions.
Home to sultans of the former Ottoman empire, it was built between 1466 and 1478.
But you probably also want to see the harem, right?
Linked by courtyards, it contains more than 300 beautiful rooms and nine bathhouses – some of which are open to the public.
In the imperial harem, your imagination is apt to run wild.
What we learned, however, squelched some misperceptions about the juicier aspects of harem life.
As well as housing the sultan’s wives and mistresses, it turns out the harem was also “a center of education for concubines,” making them suitable marriage partners for courtiers and elite soldiers.
Still, even modern-day Turks aren’t immune to the allure of harem tales.
A few years ago, a popular Turkish TV show about Roxelana, the red-haired slave girl who bewitched Suleyman the Magnificent into marrying her (The Turkish Century), had every female in the country glued to the tube on Wednesday nights.
Take a Bosphorus cruise
One day in Istanbul, we booked a cruise up the Bosphorus Canal on the official public passenger ferry (Sehir Hatlari).
Don’t bother with fancier Bosphorus cruises in special tour boats.
The Bosphorus ferry is more fun and atmospheric!
It’s like a hop-on, hop-off boat ride, allowing you to get off at various stops to see palaces and other sights, then jump back on the ferry again.
From Eminonu, we cruised up to Anadolu Kavagi, the last stop before the Black Sea.
Onboard our Bosphorus cruise tour, vendors hawked hot black tea in tulip-shaped glasses as we puttered past grand villas.
At Anadolu Kavagi, we got off the ferry and enjoyed a late lunch at a fish restaurant overlooking the water, before getting back on a return ferry.
(The fish restaurants are a bit touristy. But hey, we were tourists, and there are worse ways to pass a few hours in the middle of the day than eating fish and sipping a couple of glasses of wine by the water!)
Stroll Istiklal Avenue
The Golden Horn is a major inlet of the Bosphorus. From the old part of the city, if you cross the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, you reach the more modern areas of Istanbul.
Taksim Square, for example, is a major tourist hub and gathering place for locals in the modern part of Istanbul. The central station for Istanbul’s metro is also found here.
And then there’s Istiklal Avenue.
Running from Taksim Square, the long cobblestone stretch of Istiklal Avenue is a major pedestrian-only shopping hub.
Think perhaps Fifth Avenue in NYC – that’s what Istiklal is to Istanbul.
Lively and bustling, it boasts over one mile of shops – and great people watching too.
Check out the pretty Flower Passage
If you’re craving raki and mezes at a cheerfully noisy meyhane (tavern-cum-restaurant), or you just want a few good travel pics, duck into Cicek Pasaji – the Istanbul Flower Passage.
Built in 1876, the pretty glass-covered arcade, found along Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Avenue, is filled with rows of restaurants, historic cafes and bars.
In earlier days, the Flower Passage housed shops and apartments.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917, poor but noble Russian women, including a Baroness, moved in and sold flowers here – hence its name.
The arcade was renovated in 1988 and the roof restored in 2005.
Today the Flower Passage lures in tourists with its beautiful European-style architecture.
Pssst! If you wander off into Nevizade Sokak, the narrow street behind, which is stuffed to the gills with more boisterous meyhanes, you’ll probably score a better meal for less money.
We also visited the opulent 19th century Dolmabahce Palace.
The largest palace in Turkey, this European-style palace was built between 1842 and 1853.
It was home to six sultans. And while the capital is in Ankara in eastern Turkey, the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, also stayed at the palace when visiting Istanbul. He died in 1938 in the palace – at 9:05 am – and that’s the time shown on all the palace clocks.
You can’t help but ooh and aah when touring the palace, turned into a museum in 1984. In today’s dollars, more than $1.9 billion was spent on it.
Some 14 tons of gold gild its ceilings. There are 150-year-old bearskin rugs, gifts from Russian Tsar Nicholas 1. Every chandelier is made of French Baccarat crystal – the famous Crystal Staircase has crystal balustrades.
Soak in a Turkish hammam
You’ve probably never had an authentic Turkish hammam experience before – at least not the way it’s done in Turkey.
Chances are you’ll love it and be clamoring for another hammam treatment before you leave Istanbul.
Visiting a hammam late in the afternoon is a great way to relax and get squeaky clean before going out for dinner in the evening.
The steam, scrub and soapy massage we had at the AyaSofya Hammam sure trumped the utilitarian showers we normally have back home!
In case you missed it, read out our post! The 7 top hammams in Istanbul for luxury lovers
Other things to do in Istanbul
There are many other fabulous places to visit in Istanbul too.
In the old town, we also visited the Hagia Sophia (built as a Byzantine church, then transformed into an Ottoman mosque and now one of the most beautiful places in Istanbul), the Blue Mosque (named for its blue-tiled interior) just a short walk away, and the Spice Bazaar.
And in the historic Grand Bazaar – one of the world’s oldest and largest markets – we had fun bargaining and buying a couple of pashminas and silver jewelry.
The Galata Tower is also worth visiting. The Ottomans used it as a watchtower for spotting fires. Now a museum, it has an observation deck up top, offering panoramic views of the city.
Next time? We’d like to visit the Chora Museum for a look at its Byzantine mosaics and frescoes (which we hear are amazing).
Where to eat in Istanbul
Turkish food is some of the most delicious cuisine in the world. You could make a meal of the mezes (small shared appetizers) alone!
Dinner typically starts with an array of hot and cold mezes like hummus, fried eggplant with yogurt and tomato sauce, stuffed zucchini blossoms, feta cheese “cigarette” pastries, olives and so on.
Then you move on to the main course (fish or meat) before finishing off with something sweet. Hello baklava!
And to drink?
Turkey’s signature drink is raki, made from twice-distilled grapes and aniseed.
So, what are some of the best restaurants in Istanbul? We had particularly memorable meals at the following two Istanbul restaurants.
Meze by Lemon Tree:
This small restaurant opposite the Pera Palace hotel consistently rakes in rave reviews.
At Meze by Lemon Tree, we sampled delectable eggplant rolled with hand-braised escargot, plums and mustard – along with fresh salads, kofte (meatballs), kebabs and more.
One of the most romantic places to eat in Istanbul is the rooftop terrace of Hamdi Restaurant.
You get beautiful views overlooking the night-lit New Mosque and Bosphorus Canal while dining alfresco.
Our favorite dish at Hamdi was a delightfully-flavored grilled minced lamb, cumin, pistachio and onion creation.
Where to stay in Istanbul
Istanbul has no shortage of deluxe hotels – from grand restored palaces to modern boutique hotels. During our visits to Istanbul, we’ve stayed at several which we can recommend.
Both have great Turkish hammams.
For a stylish boutique hotel, Tomtom Suites is lovely. It’s housed in a former 1850s convent near the Italian consulate in the Beyoglu district.
Or try Sumahan on the Water. It’s a restful retreat on the Asian side (and the private taxi boat ride across the Bosphorus Canal is fun).
See our reviews: You’ll love these boutique hotels in Istanbul, from hip to historic
Day 5 to 9 – Cappadocia itinerary
Remember Star Wars and the surreal desert planet where Luke Skywalker grew up? (That’s Tatooine – for all you Star Wars fans.)
Turkish tour guides will tell you Cappadocia was the film set for Star Wars. Not hard to believe.
With its weird mushroom-shaped rock sculptures, rocky ravines and sand-swept lava valleys, Cappadocia sure looks like it could have been Luke’s home.
During your 2 weeks in Turkey, you have to make Cappadocia your temporary home for a few days too – it’s a place you absolutely must see in Turkey!
Underground cities of Turkey
Now, the fictional Star Wars hero might have had no problems living in Cappadocia. But all those lava rock ridges and outcroppings look rather inhospitable for real human inhabitants.
So why would a trinity of saints (St. Basil the Great, his younger brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus) choose to settle in Cappadocia in the 4th century?
Precisely that inhospitable looking rock. Dubbed “living rock,” this special tufa stone is soft and easy to carve, but hardens when it comes in contact with air.
Early Christians escaping persecution found the tufa stone ideal for tunneling out underground cave cities in which to live and hide from their enemies.
It’s believed there were some 150 to 200 underground cities in Cappadocia.
Today, two of the best underground cities to visit are Derinkuyu and Kaymakli.
On a guided tour, we squeezed through the tunnels of the underground city of Kaymakli. It has more than 100 tunnels connecting at least eight levels of living quarters.
Most of the time we didn’t feel claustrophobic because there are air and light ventilation shafts. We could also stand up in the large cave rooms. Still, you do have to scrunch over to shuffle through some tunnels.
Hiking in Rose Valley
The same rock that was ideal for creating underground cities was also easy for carving out churches and monasteries in the cliffs above ground.
Centuries ago, Christians used these religious establishments as a base to spread the Orthodox Christian faith.
Not surprisingly, these rock-cut churches combined with the sculpted rock landscape provide the perfect setting for breathtaking hiking in Cappadocia.
Through our Cappadocia cave hotel, we arranged for an all-day hiking tour with a private tour guide in the Rose Valley.
The song of nightingales filled the air.
And it was fascinating to peer inside some of the churches we passed, many painted inside with beautiful frescoes.
It was also interesting to see and learn about the dovecotes (pigeon holes) in the upper cliffs.
The early inhabitants in the region used pigeon droppings to fertilize the fields and pigeon egg whites to make plaster for walls.
Our tour also included a delightful Turkish lunch in a private wooden gazebo by the river in Belisirma Village.
The trail along the Melendiz River in the Ihlara Valley is another popular Cappadocia hike – lusher than the Rose Valley.
Check out this guided tour that you can prebook before your trip – it includes a visit to the Derinkuyu underground city, hiking in the Ihlara Valley and lunch at a local river restaurant in Belisirma.
Another historic site in Cappadocia you won’t want to miss is the Goreme Open-Air Museum.
One of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey, Goreme is an area packed with a fine collection of rock-cut churches.
Many also are painted inside with colorful frescoes.
Cappadocia balloon rides
You must also go hot-air ballooning in Cappadocia.
Cappadocia is one of the top places in the world to go ballooning, and soaring over Cappadocia’s “fairy chimneys” is hands-down one of the best things to do in Turkey.
Yes, it means a very early morning start to the day. But it’s totally worth it.
Our hot-air balloon ride is an experience we won’t forget – and the cost is more affordable than you may think.
Where to stay in Cappadocia
It would be a pity to visit Cappadocia and not stay in a cave hotel.
We stayed in two cave hotels.
We absolutely adored Esbelli Evi – think loads of fairytale charm! Rooms and suites also have kitchens, so they’re ideal if you want to stay longer in Cappadocia. (We stayed over a week in Cappadocia.)
See our review: Esbelli Evi Cave Hotel is full of fairytale charm!
Argos in Cappadocia:
Argos in Cappadocia was our other base in Cappadocia. It’s widely cited as one of the best hotels in Cappadocia.
See our review: You’ll dig the luxurious Argos in Cappadocia
Day 9 to 14 – Bodrum itinerary
Why all the buzz about Bodrum? Maybe because Bodrum is one of the chicest places to go in Turkey?
Both a peninsula and a town, Bodrum is an hour’s flight away from Istanbul on the southwest coast of Turkey.
Jutting 25 miles into the dark blue Aegean, the hilly Bodrum Peninsula is a popular luxury summer holiday destination for Brits and Europeans.
Bodrum is also a celebrity hotspot.
Celebrity sightings include Beyonce, super model Kate Moss, Tom Hanks and Sting.
In July and August, the town throbs with nonstop nightlife.
But you can escape the throngs by staying in one of the pretty outlying villages, like Torba and Turkbuku (or Golturkbuku), favored by the wealthy from Istanbul.
These tiny coastal towns are the perfect place to chill after all your Turkey sightseeing!
There are few sandy beaches in Bodrum.
Instead, the small resorts and boutique hotels along the peninsula have wooden decks on stilts extending over the sea, with ladders for entering the blue water to swim.
We spent the days like sloths, reclining on plump cushioned loungers under shade canopies, rousing every so often to slide into the crystal water for a dip.
From most of the villages on the Bodrum Peninsula, you can can catch a dolmus (public mini-bus) into Bodrum town.
In the town, you can tour the 15th century St. Peter’s Castle and its shipwreck museum.
We also had dinner one evening at the fish market, where restaurants cook up fresh seafood that you buy from little stalls. Unique!
Where to stay in Bodrum
Should you stay right in Bodrum town?
It was fun to go into Bodrum town and visit. But we wouldn’t want to base ourselves there in the height of summer – the town is simply too busy for our tastes.
We were glad we stayed in a couple of the villages on the peninsula at two luxury Bodrum hotels: Macakizi and Casa Dell’Arte. Idyllic!
For glam, style and effortless chic, check out Macakizi, one of the hottest hotels in Bodrum.
Read our hotel review: No doubt about it, Macakizi is one glam beach hotel in Bodrum
Ephesus and Sirince: Day trip from Bodrum
From Bodrum, we took a day trip to Ephesus and the traditional village of Sirince. (Ephesus is about a 2½-hour drive from Bodrum.)
The ancient city of Ephesus is easily one of the best places to visit in Turkey.
A once-splendid ancient Greek city on the Turkish coast, the enchanting Ephesus ruins date back more than 2,000 years. Don’t miss the Library of Celsus, Terrace Houses and Ephesus Archaeological Museum!
Yes, Ephesus is the mother of all ancient ruins in Turkey!
The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is also located near the Ephesus ruins. But unfortunately, little remains of this temple.
A 15-minute drive from Ephesus, the small town of Sirince (population 600) is nestled as if in a bird’s nest on top of a mountain.
The Turkish people live here much as they did centuries ago.
There are no cars, and the women – dressed in head scarves and long peasant skirts – crochet doilies and embroider napkins.
To make a living, villagers sell handmade fruit wines, olive oil soaps and handicrafts to tourists.
While browsing, we were fortunate to see a rare circumcision procession. A young boy, dressed all in white, rode atop a white horse, while family and friends danced around him, playing flutes and banging drums.
Our guide explained that male babies are circumcised at birth, but the celebration occurs when the boy is about 10.
At the end of the day, we were driven back to Bodrum for a final day of beach time, before flying back to Istanbul, and then home…
Where to stay in Ephesus
You could tweak your Turkey itinerary to include an overnight stay in Selcuk (which is very close to Ephesus) to give you more time to explore the archaeological site and Sirince.
The boutique Akanthus Hotel Ephesus, which boasts a pool and garden, is perhaps the nicest hotel in Selcuk.
Other suggestions for your 2 weeks Turkey itinerary
If you have time, some other destinations you might want to add to your itinerary as you explore Turkey include Pamukkale, Marmaris and Izmir.
In southwestern Turkey, Pamukkale (meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish) is known for its natural salt pools and hot springs.
Calcium-laden waters springing from the earth cascade down over cliffs, and as the water cools, it forms hard white pools filled with warm water. You can walk through the pools or lie down and bathe in them as you soak up the unreal beauty.
With the largest harbor in Turkey, Marmaris is a popular Mediterranean resort area and major yachting center.
It’s the main starting point for multi-day “blue cruises” – sailing in a traditional wooden yacht (known as a gulet) along Turkey’s famed Turquoise Coast.
Discover idyllic coves, pine-covered mountains plunging into the sea and ancient stone villages as you sail to Kas, Kekova and Fethiye.
At the beach village of Oludeniz, watch paragliders soar over the impossibly aquamarine waters of Turkey’s famous Blue Lagoon.
For the absolute best Turkey itinerary, we’d have loved to have added even a few more days again for a blue cruise. Next visit!
Of course, if you want to visit Istanbul, Cappadocia, Bodrum and Ephesus, that would definitely mean spending more than 14 days in Turkey (for a comfortable trip). So you could swap out Bodrum and substitute a blue cruise starting from Marmaris instead.
Known as Smyrna in ancient times, Izmir is a large city on the Aegean Coast.
With 8,000 years of history, it’s full of archaeological sites and monuments. At the same time, it also has a reputation as Turkey’s most western-oriented city.
Browse the city’s fascinating Kemeralti Bazaar, watch the sunset from the long seafront promenade, admire the sculptures in the urban Culture Park, visit the Izmir Archaeological Museum and stroll about the open-air Agora.
Depending on how you plan your Turkey trip itinerary, Izmir also makes a good base for visiting Ephesus, as it’s only a one-hour drive away.
Final thoughts on spending two weeks in Turkey
Now you know what to do in Turkey! (Well, the highlights anyway.)
But if you’re like us, you’ll be quite sad to leave the country.
Yes, a 14-day itinerary for Turkey will let you see and experience many of the vibrant country’s highlights.
But don’t be surprised if it just leaves you wanting more. With each passing day, you’ll realize you’re barely scratching the surface of this wonderful country!
We hope our two-week Turkey itinerary helps you to better plan your trip. (And if you’ve been, and you’d like to share your thoughts on places you think should be included in a Turkey travel itinerary, let us know in the Comments below.)
Have fun on your Turkey holiday!
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Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except 1 to 10, 17, 19, 20, 23, 28 and 41)
We were invited to stay at most hotels mentioned here as media guests. Vanguard Travel Services provided ground transportation and guiding on a complimentary basis. But as professional award-winning travel writers, we always maintain our independence and ability to write what we want, as we experience it.